August 24, 2011

How the Community Can Save Webos

As Touchpad mania continues into its 5th straight day of frustrated bargain hunting and gnashing of teeth over possible cancelled orders (I'm experiencing both), there is no denying that despite all the buzz, hype and excitement generated by the Touchpad firesale, a cloud still hangs over Webos. The threat of oblivion and a slow steady extinction.

Where We Are: HP announced August 17th that it was going to sell off its PSG group, which contains Webos, and that it was discontinuing the production of Webos devices. Then it slashed the price of the HP Touchpad 16gb/32gb units to $99 and $149 respectively, setting off a buying frenzy and in the process, creating an excitement, buzz, mania and broad consumer interest in the product that all their off the mark, ill planned and conceived celebrity advertising never came close to achieving. HP has subsequently made clarifying statements that it would continue to support and develop the OS, while it figured out what to do with it, but it was giving up the hardware business entirely. Despite those statements, its clear they have no solid plan for Webos and its future is very uncertain. None of this is helped by the fact that the inept and non business savvy way HP made these announcements damaged Webos' value for licensing by casting so much uncertainty on it.  It is entirely possible that Webos could meet the same fate as the awesome show Firefly, killed off without being given a real chance to shine by corporate suits who could not see past short term profits to the long term greatness in their product.

Our Mission, if we choose to accept it - Save Webos: So what are the Webos faithful to do now? Seemingly, Webos is a failed platform. It matters little if HP develops the OS if there are no devices that run it.  While it may be semi comforting to some that the DNA of Webos might find its way into printers and cars and various and sundry enterprise apps, thats cold comfort to die hard users of this outstanding moble OS.

Tux, as originally drawn by Larry EwingBut hey, we're just consumers right? HP is a giant behemoth of a company and one that didn't listen to the community. If they had, we would not be here today.  We told them, get to market quickly, they didn't.  We told them, put the phone out first, then the tablet, they didn't. We told them, its about apps and the eco system, get the big name developers on board, even if you have to build the apps and give them to them, they didn't do it. We told them, don't price this head to head with the Ipad, you're not ready for that, they did it anyway.  We told them your advertising campaign must showcase the device and Webos, not obscure it with extraneous celebrity, they didn't listen.  Their decision to dump Webos devices altogether reflects the triumph of short term share price focused thinking over long term lets win the market with quality thinking.

So in the face of all that stubborn refusal, you ask, how can the community have an impact now that will save Webos from a slow death? We make lemons from lemonade:

I believe HP's non strategy at this point is as follows:
  • Liquidate all remaining webos device stock as fast as possible and get it in the hands of users
  • Maintain webos with minimal activity in the form of OTA updates and some continued encouragement of the developer community to maintain webos viability for 12-18 month period while the PSG group is sold or more likely spun off as a standalone unit
  • License webos to the newly spun off PSG, who will then either make devices that run it or partner with someone to do so. See the ZDNET article below on HPs master plan.  
The above approach could see Webos coming out on new devices in 12-18 months and a new lease on life for Webos as we know it.  But HP is all about the bucks, not the vision.  For Webos to survive and not be sold off for its parts (patents), HP must successfully monetize it.  This is where we, the community of users and developers, come in.  We have to work together and with HP (much as we might wish they were HTC) to retain, indeed enhance the value of Webos as a platform. We all have a part to play.  Time to make lemonade.  Here is how we do it.

  • HP must do an all out press to retain its developers and should subsidize big name developers to  create apps for the platform - Raw app numbers don't matter, but app quality and popularity does.  HP must bring the most popular developers to the platform by any means necessary. if that means building the app for them, its what they should do.  Get creative, offer bounties for certain app types, prize competitions like Netflix has done.  Whatever it takes HP, get it done.
  • Webos developers must support and update existing apps and create new ones - the platform has to stay alive for 12-18 months without a hardware refresh.  The key to that is keeping the ecosystem alive and that means developers must not orphan, shelve or deepfreeze their apps in the meanwhile.  Developers must keep their apps alive.
  • Webos users must Buy apps - This is key.  Its about the money. The firesale has put thousands of webos devices in the hands of new users and their numbers are now added to those of us still using webos.  With no devices being made for 12-18 months, the platform will quickly wither for lack of developer support if they can't see any future return for their labors. The Webos community must buy apps.  Not just apps we want or like or that are really good. We must buy apps simply because they exist.  We must buy apps as a  recreational activity. Buy $5 worth of apps a month. Whether you use them or not. Whether you like them or not. Just buy apps. We must subsidize our developer community through this period, so they can come out the other side ready to create new apps when hardware for webos comes back to the market.
  • User community and HP must financially support Webos Internals - Webos Internals is arguably as responsible for innovation and advancement of the Webos platform as its owners have been. We'll need them to continue their life giving work to this platform, so we must financially support their work and HP should enable them with equipment and bucks.  They are a cheap investment in the life of the platform.  HP, give them what you spent on the nearly worthless tv advertising, you'll reap far more return for it than the tv spots ever got.
  • Convert new touchpad owners to rabid webos fans who buy apps - We have been gifted a new crop of webos users.  We must convert them to die hard supporters of the platform and mondo app purchasers too. 
  • Retain pre-, pre+, pre2 and touchpad hardware for as long as possible - There are a dwindling number of replacements. We have to keep using all of these devices and help each other as a community with creative ways to fix or replace our devices in the event of loss or failure for the 12-18 months needed to get to a new webos hardware cycle.
This approach over 12-18 months will keep Webos on vital life support while HP solidifies its plans.  It preserves our developer community, ensures vitality in the platform and keeps webos attractive for potential purchasing or licensing interest from companies interested in winning the market with its mobile goodness. Thats how the Webos user and developer community and HP, working together, can save Webos to live another day. 

UPDATE: Join the fight for Webos Survival

I've set up campaigns to begin bringing popular apps to the Webos platform.  Join them, then start your own for the apps you want to see!

Bring Words with Friends to Webos!
Bring Netflix Watch Instantly to Webos!
Bring to Webos!

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